Maximize Search Relevance to Attract, Engage and Retain Searchers

In a recent post I discussed how businesses should be leveraging Search Marketing techniques to intersect with existing searcher demand.   I firmly believe that when we understand the searcher’s intent, where a searcher is in the buying cycle or even understanding the type of search they are doing, advertisers can better intersect with the current demand for their type of products and services to increase sales.
In today’s post, I want to walk you through the next critical step of leveraging relevance and searcher interest.   Now our programs should be connecting with the right targets and our focus turns from attracting to engaging the searcher once they come to your Website.

Advertisers who truly want to get the most out of search marketing need to establish stricter measures of success for their campaigns and monitor them to ensure they are capturing more of the right traffic and avoiding the wrong traffic.

Decreasing Bounce Rates means more engagements

In a pull driven marketing environment like search, one where the consumer actively reaches out for information, we have this unique opportunity to connect with them and guide them through the stages of learning about our products all the way to conversion.   With this opportunity comes an implied obligation that we will present the searcher with the best information and engage them to take the next step in your specific purchase cycle.  A failure to engage searchers by not presenting them with content that matches their needs, that engages and compels them to interact further, will result in them clicking the back button never to be seen again.

In a perfect world we would have a single landing page for each keyword phrase to precisely match the intent of their search with content on your site.  Unfortunately, we live in a world of limited resources and sites that match our company organization, messaging and not always flexible to the broad needs and interests of our search prospects.

Various studies suggest the average Search Marketing program has bounce rates well over 60 percent.  This means only less than 40 percent of those who click a search listing are finding what they want on the landing page.   Bounce rates are typically defined as those visitors who landed on a page from search listing and did not move forward but simply clicked the back button and left the site.

One of the easiest ways for advertisers to generate immediate improvements in their search marketing programs is to simply reduce their bounce rates for important keywords. A single 10 percent decrease in bounces will result in significantly more opportunities to connect with high quality traffic.

Landing Page Optimization improves engagement and conversions

So we monitor our bounce rate and it shows that we are not engaging as well as we should for critical keywords. What can we do to improve it?  The logical approach is to look at the pages and try to understand why searchers are not engaging and converting.

The most common problem is that the advertiser as bunching too many varied keywords into a single batch and pointing them to the same landing page and then expecting that page to magically meet the needs of a varied community.

Advertisers can fix this by segmenting the keywords into smaller more relevant categories based on various segmentation categories around buy cycle, branded and unbranded, product and feature keywords then match them to landing pages that are more closely related to the segmentation and the intent of the searcher.

The other challenge we face is the assumptive close nature of most search landing pages.  Search Marketing has typically been a sales or lead generation activity and marketers leverage tried and true direct marketing practices of limiting the choice of the searcher.   These direct marketing tactics work brilliantly when the searcher is in the final stages of purchase.  For example, a search query “Canon EOS 50D” allows us to assume they want to know about that specific camera and should take them to a page with sufficient details about the product and a compelling offer to purchase.  However, if we bring a searcher for Canon Digital Cameras to the same page we are most likely going to loose them since they have not yet committed on a specific model or segment of cameras.

The essence of landing page testing and optimization is to try different ideas to simplify the purpose of the page and integrate messages to make sure the page’s purpose is aligned with what the customers.  There are many tools to make this process easier and scalable.  It is critical to implement optimization for your top tier keywords and especially those phrases you expect to generate high conversions beyond just monitoring your bounce rates.

I strongly suggest that you deploy strict landing page optimization best practices and closely match words to page and test the different messaging options on them.  As you start to find those that work the best you can integrate them more widely into your programs.  It is understood that you will not be able to do this for all of your words and pages so segment those that are the most likely to convert, drive current sales goals or have performed strongly in the past.   Remember, we can use our trusty bounce rate metric to find pages that are getting lots of clicks but not engaging the visitor.  Start with them and make page level improvements that engage and move them into a conversion opportunity.

Ensuring a Quality Ecosystem with Quality Scores

So far everything in this article seems so obvious, pick the right words, write enticing ad copy and bring them to pages that engage and encourage conversions.  While it is easy, far too many advertisers are not implementing the fundamentals to ensure they are maximizing their opportunities.

The search engine results page is often looked at as just a simple page of results when it is actually a very complex ecosystem that supports the goals of multiple members.  To the searcher, their goal is to be presented to be the most relevant of all sources of data on the topic so they can select an option that will answer their question.  To the search engine, they hope that they have met that demand of the searcher and actually aggregated and presented the most relevant sources of information to answer the searchers question.  The goal of the content owner is more complex since they not only want to be seen but hope to somehow engage the searcher to purchase something on their site.

Unfortunately, it is often the content owner or their agency that is the one who disrupts this fragile ecosystem by trying to push in content that is not truly relevant or solves the searchers problem.  For example, a recent search for digital cameras resulted in numerous paid search ads for car companies.  This was strange, and being curious, I clicked the links and went to the various sites.  None of the sites had anything to do with digital cameras.  These sites had simply bought a popular keyword phrase and were hoping that they could get brand exposure with those users.  Now, we can argue that the millions of searchers looking for digital cameras also had a brand experience with these car companies but I think that is a stretch and so do Google and Baidu.

Google adopted their “Quality Score” a while back that I have jokingly referred to as “Google’s Profit Maximization Score” since it was essentially a sin tax on those lazy advertisers who just slap together a search program and throw it up for Internet riches.  Baidu, has since joined the party and in their updated Phoenix Nest Platform, Baidu introduced a new “quality of ads” scoring mechanism called  “Comprehensive Rank Index” focused on improving the overall relevance of ads for searchers and advertisers.  Similar to Google, they are measuring multiple factors such as click rate, landing page context and bounce rates as measures of contextual relevancy of the ads.  This is not necessary for the organic results because they are generally assured to be relevant from algorithmic content scoring.

I love these “quality score” tools since this quality scoring mechanism rewards advertisers who actually have relevant messages and offers by dynamically lowering the cost they pay for each click.  This benefits all in the ecosystem since the ads are more relevant, searchers click more, advertisers get more opportunities to engage, and the search engine’s revenues increase.  However, for advertisers who’s ads are not relevant, and hoping for that transient click, their costs increase and will now be incentivized to improve their messaging.
Respect the power of search marketing to attract, engage and convert

With the adoption of quality scores and increased competition in organic listings it is essential that advertisers pause and give a deeper look at their search marketing programs.  Without a doubt, search marketing has created an unmatched opportunity to effectively target potential customers at the very time they are looking for something they sell.  Unfortunately, while searchers have become more demanding of higher quality results, and the search engines working ever harder to return quality results, many advertisers and their agencies have become fat and lazy and have taken the opportunities of search riches for granted and only achieved a sliver of what is possible.

So I challenge all marketers to take a few minutes and ask the hard questions about your campaigns.  What are your bounce rates, poor performing words and even go as far as click your ads.  You must fully evaluate the experience you are presenting to this high quality, ripe for the picking, prospects and see if the experience you are presenting is optimal.
SEM, unlike any other marketing activities, is changeable, scalable and hands down, offers the single best returns on your advertising spend.  The opportunities for significant conversions are there but only to those who take the time to understand what the searcher wants and truly engage them, as they want to be engaged.